Interview with Will Parsons of the British Pilgrimage Trust.

british pilgrim photo 3 

Pilgrimage is experiencing is a revival.  Many of the currents which animate this resurgence also pulse through the veins of the Folk Horror Revival. A re-imagining of our experience of the landscape. An uncovering of forgotten paths. An openness to explore strange edges and the fascinations of writers such as Ronald Hutton and Robert Macfarlane. FHR’s John Pilgrim was the natural person to enquire about these shared currents and the work of the British Pilgrimage Trust more generally.  His interview with Will Parsons of the BPT took place in 2019 and takes the reader along some curious paths.

 

FHR: Please can you explain the background to the formation of the British Pilgrimage Trust?

 

The British Pilgrimage Trust was formed in 2014, initially as a Charitable Trust, and since 2017 as a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (1176035).

 

There are many reason why the BPT came into being. As I see it, the lack of accessible pilgrimage in Britain was getting silly, which annoyed the Universe.

 

In personal terms, a more immediate reason for founding it (with Guy Hayward and Merlin Sheldrake) was what happened when Guy and I went for a walk to the source of a song.

 

I met Guy the year before at Rupert Sheldrake’s house (the scientist behind the ‘Morphic Resonance’ theory, and the BPT’s first patron). Guy had seen my wandering minstrel work and wanted to go for a walk. I offered the plan of walking a Romany Gypsy song back to the place it originated.

 

The song was called The Hartlake Bridge Tragedy, and it was written in 1852 about 37 hop-pickers who all died when a bridge collapsed over the River Medway. In one family, three generations were lost. Upkeep of the bridge had been the responsibility of the Medway Navigation Trust, local businessmen like the Mayor and his pals. But the hop-pickers were poor Irish and Gypsy itinerant labourers, not the sort of people who could expect too much justice in Victorian England. Sure enough, at the Inquest the Navigation Trust was absolved of all blame.

 

A subscription was taken up, which raised enough for a small concrete memorial, ambitiously said to resemble an oast (a building in which hops are dried). All 37 are buried there.

 

But the most moving survival of this tragedy is a song, written by family members. Its melody lilts jollily, while its lyrics hang heavy with coded social protest. It is a strange classic. The song reached me via the song collector Sam Lee, who learns Romany folksong from its living lineage holders. It was never really any good for busking, but you know how it is with songs – once in, you can’t unlearn them. So I suggested to Guy that we take this song home, by walking it from my house to the bridge where it happened.

 

Guy agreed, and we prepared. He was not ready. He didn’t know that boots can keep out water, or sleeping bags zip up. He came straight from 23 unbroken years of school – education-old but world-young. I have a ‘before’ and ‘after’ photo from this walk, and you can see his eyes go from screeny to hawkish.

 

We walked, and the journey was strong. We met the right strangers, some who taught us songs, including the bedtime lullabies that an 80 year old ex-Methodist minister sung to his Dementia suffering wife. We met an ex-Eastenders star who would not sing, and Kent’s oldest Yew trees at Ulcombe. Guy had boots that didn’t quite fit his feet, so he had blisters within the first half hour, but I knew the right leaves and we kept walking. We slept in the woods, filtered water from streams and cooked on fires. It worked.

 

At this point, nobody I knew was talking about pilgrimage. I had spent ten years as a wandering minstrel, a ‘close-but-definitely-not’ pilgrim, and as such I had never made a journey with such a specific destination, or so clear an intention. My multi-month walks had always been ‘West’, ‘to Cornwall’ or ‘to Wales’. But now I knew exactly which bridge I was going to, and what to do when I got there. I had always believed such a model of journey-making was inferior, a contrived version of wayfaring with insufficient liberty – but I soon found myself wrong. It turns out that the limitations on the journey enabled a tightening of the field, to allow co-incidence to flourish. It really worked. Having an intention and set destination was like tightening the strings on a fiddle – suddenly everything hummed with new intensity and harmonic potential, and we could sing along.

 

The best example came at the journey’s end. Not at the bridge itself, where things got a bit strange, but before that, at the grave of the dead hop-pickers in Hadlow village church. We arrived here after five days walking, to find two other people stood graveside. This is rare in a Kentish churchyard. So we asked – gently – why they were there at that time. They told us that they were related to three of the hop-pickers who had died.  We were amazed. Did they come often? Never before. So we asked if we might sing the song? They answered: what song? They’d never heard of it. So stood over the bodies of the hop-pickers, beside their living descendants, we sung the song. And it was the most incredibly resonant connection to realise that we were not returning the song to a river, but to its bloodline.

 

I can still feel the shocking wholeness of this moment, the comforting echo of its extreme unlikeliness. The song had become (had always been) a gift from the dead to their living descendants, given through generations. For me, this moment first triggered my understanding of the framework of pilgrimage, as a journey on foot with an intention and a holy destination.

 

After the graveyard, we walked to the bridge, where we met old Mother Medway, in the form of a fearsome rambling shell-suited lady with a muzzled Jack Russell cross. The dog was eating other dogs’ poo, and its muzzle was smeared foully, but the lady, who kept disappearing into bushes then reappearing in different places, repeatedly asked Guy to ‘touch the dog – go on, touch him, just once’. Guy did not. I’m still not sure if he passed the test or not.

 

We nearly came a cropper soon after, when I was inappropriately trying to film us singing on my phone and mini tripod. We began to discuss keeping our pilgrim staffs, rather than flinging them into the river (as a gift). We had intended to, but now fancied holding onto them. But as soon as we said this, Guy banged his head against the bridge, although he was stood still and looking right at it, and my tripod leg pinged off, sheared clean away. The sun went in, and up rose a confused awareness of imminent threat. Translating this, we realised we could not retract the promised gift, so we gave our hazel bodies, with a whoosh and plop, to be claimed by River Medway.

 

This was the first time I had ever made a pilgrimage that ‘worked’. And in the greater journey of life, the timing was good for me. Wandering minstrelsy had dried up (everyone had children). And this new (ancient) pilgrimage format of setting an intention and destination seemed to lead me straight back into that parallel Britain, the good old land beyond the tarmac and supermarkets.

 

So the BPT was formed, in an attempt to renew Britain’s pilgrimage tradition. We vowed to remain a spiritual organisation, as well as a tech start-up, and a social movement. We would remain independent of affiliations, belonging only to ourselves, but welcoming faiths and non-faiths equally. It seemed like the fruitful middle ground, in fact the whole plateau of pilgrimage in Britain, had been left abandoned. It was an opportunity just waiting to happen, with potentially huge benefits. What else could there possibly be to do?

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FHR: What do you hope to achieve through the formation of the Trust and what are your hopes for the future?

 

To me, the BPT was a way to give my dreams respectability and efficacy. This started off as ‘The British Pilgrimage Revival Trust’, until original Trustee Merlin Sheldrake advised we cut Revival out: “People need to know that pilgrimage never went away!”.

 

What is great about a charitable trust is how easily they can be set up. You simply need a constitution (downloaded off google and adapted) with aims that benefit the public. Then you need three trustees and a witness, some signatures and a tenner in an envelope, and you legally exist as an unincorporated Charitable Trust. We got a friend to make us a logo for £20, and we built an ultra-simple website. Help started to come.

 

I hoped that this organisational form would let us present pilgrimage with clarity and authority in its simplified universal form (an intentional journey on foot to a holy place).  It seemed to me that the main reason pilgrimage was not already happening in Britain was its confused religious affiliation. Was it Catholic? Christian? Pagan? Humanist? Could Muslims and Hindus and Atheists do it? Who was making up the rules? Who was is in charge? It seemed no-one was. So we decided to be.

 

The vision was to offer an inclusive and unifying centre space for British pilgrimage. I hoped for many more people to travel on foot, connecting the holy places of our landscape – the hilltops, ancient trees, stone circles and river sources, as well as the chapels, churches and cathedrals (of all faiths). Britain’s holy places I see as a single unified pilgrimage landscape, to which we all share access (and responsibility). The BPT’s aim was to help more people walk slowly among these beautiful, powerful and spiritually brilliant places in Britain.

 

Of course, pilgrimage is a universal human tradition, used throughout history, and no more ‘belongs’ to a single faith (or non-faith) than ‘music’ does. It’s a common inheritance, probably used by people of every imaginable belief (and many more. And in modern Britain, success seemed unlikely if we tried to promote pilgrimage under the flag of a single faith, which it seemed would inspire as much opposition as unity.  So I found a canny acronym called OTA – Open to All (with the optional tagline: Bring Your Own Beliefs). This seemed to enshrine the universalist approach to pilgrimage that reflected Britain’s modern diversity of beliefs. OTA would enable everyone, whatever their faith or non-faith, to feel they owned this pilgrimage tradition. But we were also keen not to reduce the activity to mere non-spiritual ‘hiking’, to cut out spirituality for fear of excluding non-believers. I think this OTA solution works well.

 

Another key ambition for the Trust was to solve the problem of low cost pilgrim accommodation. The problem is simple: there isn’t any. While a wandering minstrel, I had either slept in strangers’ houses (with permission) or the woods (without). But that could not scale up. So there were two possible solutions: pilgrims sleeping in churches, which is currently a scheme afoot, and about which I’ve said a lot elsewhere – and Pilgrim Acres, wild-camping shrines to host pilgrims in new-planted ‘sacred groves’ with borehole-dug ‘holy wells’. I still cherish this dream, of a wild green pilgrimage infrastructure to be forever Pilgrims’ England. This network of Coldharbours would be grown from bare fields, a re-greening and OTA monastic movement of sacred woodland hospitallers. This scheme has not yet come into reality. But we shall see. Can you help?

 

One of the BPT’s main ‘actual’ projects is our flagship route, called the Old Way, a path found on Britain’s oldest road map. I walked this twice last year (it takes 3 weeks) and I am trying to get it waymarked and a guidebook written, with re-opened ancient holy wells at its start and end (Southampton and Canterbury). Other BPT projects include a database of all Britain’s pilgrimage routes, and micro-pilgrimages to every British cathedral.

 

In truth, the BPT’s ambitions are large. Probably endless. But it’s not pilgrimage if you don’t have a decent holy place to aim for.

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FHR: You have an intriguing and impressive range of Trustees. The interest of Folk Horror Revivalists is likely to be piqued by the involvement of Ronald Hutton who brings his expertise on ancient and medieval paganism and witchcraft; Robert Macfarlane who many Revivalists will know from his writings on landscape and his essay on the Eeriness of the English Countryside in particular and Philip Carr-Gomm, Leader of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. It is most refreshing to see the inclusion of such figures as part of a broad church approach to pilgrimage. Can you say a little about your thinking for their inclusion and the scope for opening up a broader alliance of perspectives?

 

Pilgrimage is to my mind a kind of universal yoga that spans human cultures and traditions. It is the quest, the fool’s journey, the labyrinth at large. And this dynamism is particularly suited to Western folk, the restless people, seekers of holy grail, people of Odyssey. Our heroes do not sit still and go inward, but roam outward, over the hills and far away.

 

But pilgrimage, Britain’s popular expression of this itinerant impulse, was banned in 1538 as part of the Protestant Reformation. The shrines were dismantled, the shelters demolished, and the whole premise made criminal. Much was rejected violently in a short time. This was a traumatic and harsh change, and had left a lingering toxicity and sad disenchantment about the practice, which has lasted almost 500 years.

 

So with the intent to refresh the tradition, the BPT claimed the open middle ground, as a space from which to host the revival of British pilgrimage with radically inclusive (but deeply traditional) accessibility. It simply doesn’t make sense to limit the practice into small cultural groups. When everyone in Britain was Christian, in the Middle Ages, pilgrimage was obviously a Christian practice. But now Britain is plural and diverse, so must pilgrimage be. Or it will simply continue to not happen. This is obviously not the case in Spain, where the Camino remains a Catholic church project. But this is Britain, and we had Henry VIII, so ours is a different story. I believe that OTA is how the best of all worlds can be included and expressed of the pilgrimage tradition going forward.

 

Within its journey form limits, pilgrimage enjoys free-form rituality. Almost anything can happen. Your church is the world as it unfolds around you. The guides are not dressed differently. They may not even be human. They may not even exist outside your own mind. Buy you’ll meet them, as the path you follow reveals the encounters you need. What you make of these is up to you. Pilgrimage is a creative act. You take a pill or a holiday, but you make a pilgrimage.

 

In an OTA format, people of very different beliefs can walk side by side toward a shared destination, having different spiritual experiences in perfect harmony. British pilgrimage can offer an open forum for shared spiritual practice without the reductionist bridges typically required. It doesn’t have to be either/or about religion, or require spirituality to be boiled out for popular consumption. Pilgrimage even works for hardcore followers of materialist atheism (if you believe they really exist).

 

Having a space for spirituality to enjoy both diversity and community is incredibly rare. And I believe it’s extremely important, perhaps our greatest hope for proper change in this world. I do not mean religious fundamentalism, but more like a basic accord, a common truth, a universal wink, that changes our whole minds. A return to innocence via experience. A freedom from fear. I believe spirituality will be the source of this great revolution, the one we’ve always been waiting for. It has always been about spirituality. Why else do we strive for truth, freedom, justice, love? These are spiritual pursuits.

 

I should add, this is not what we discuss at Trustee meetings.

 

Having a wide range of expert friends to guide us, like Rob McFarlane, Jill Purse, Satish Kumar, and Ronald Hutton, is essential for allowing us to keep pilgrimage hosted in this wide open middle space, in the gap between religious and not religious, in the spaces between place. This is where the BPT aims to send pilgrims, on foot, with their best hopes forward. What expert would not have something to add to this?

British Piligrm photo 6

 

FHR: You have previously spent time as a ‘wandering minstrel’. Music, singing, landscape and pilgrimage are clearly intertwined for you. How can these different aspects be brought together in fruitful ways -do you have any personal examples which are particularly meaningful to you?

 

I think that song is a sacred human mystery ritual as powerful and important as pilgrimage. Song can amplify pilgrimage by functioning as a destination, or as a gift to offer at holy places to unify and ‘tune’ your journey. The song you sing is the tune you get!

 

Songs are great for churches, where many people don’t know what to do. The right song always works. It’s an instant ritual that weighs nothing and never runs out.

 

I also use SONG as an acronym to describe the four layers of spiritual connection: Self, Other, Nature and God. The methodology to follow this is SING – Slowness, Intention, Needs, Gifts. I think I’m on some kind of spectrum with this stuff, but I find it helps.

Beltingham Yew

 

FHR: We live in troubled times. How can pilgrimage help us in the modern world?

 

Pilgrimage is the most ecologically sincere act we can make, in terms of reducing your carbon footprint. I am waiting to meet an eco-statistician who can work out how much less CO2 Britain would release if everyone in Britain made a two week pilgrimage each year.

 

But of course it is ecological, is it fundamental and basic. Pilgrimage is a dive deep into the simple animal reality of life on earth. It is a way to reconnect on many levels (see SONG above). It allows access to truth through the most immediate and powerful form – personal experience, unmediated, raw and true. It is the holy day we need.

 

Pilgrimage offers health for the physical body, by curing the disease of being sedentary lives. It gets the blood flowing, the bones and muscles in communication, and the mind active. It also helps us to relax, and to face our emotional issues. It forces us to meet people outside our normal community groups, which is good for both the pilgrim and the community.

 

Pilgrimage also offers economic benefits, for both pilgrim and host communities. It’s a cheap way to get therapy and exercise and a holiday, which in return drip-feeds the rural economy. It’s tourism without cars.

 

Another of the gifts of pilgrimage is that once the trappings of status are removed, the car, house and bank balance, what remains is something more essential. It’s you, on your path, journeying toward your hopes. This is not a loss of self – it’s more like a revealing! In the context of pilgrimage, disconnected from friends and family, work colleagues and children, the expectations to behave in certain set ways are entirely gone. Apart from walking, how you fill your mind and time is yours to decide. Who you are, really, has the space to become who you are, actually. This helps people be more interesting, happy, and beautiful.

 

Pilgrimage is a cultural practice that aims to normalise taking 3 weeks ‘off’, to walk through beautiful countryside with only the possessions you carry, meeting strangers and making friends, among the weather and the landscape, with your blood flowing and muscles moving as they were made to do. If we can make this a reality in Britain, we’ll simply have better lives.

 

Pilgrimage is not made irrelevant by the modern world. The more crazy, digital, sedentary and fearful our modern world becomes, the more relevant and timely is pilgrimage as a clarion of health and sanity.

 

 

FHR: I was particularly interested to hear about your discovery of the old pilgrimage route from Southampton to Canterbury. This comes at a time when the work of Shirley Collins with her deep connection to the South Downs landscape is enjoying a remarkable renaissance. Some Revivalists will also be familiar with Justin Hopper’s The Old Weird Albion which charts a series of explorations of myths and forgotten histories across the South Downs of Hampshire and Sussex. With Rupert Sheldrake as one of your Trustees I am tempted to see these connections as a form of morphic resonance! Can you tell us a bit about this route and any reflections you might have on associated connections and synchronicities.

 

It may be morphic resonance – or it might be because all these people are based in London and the South East, for whom Sussex is the local fay space.

 

The Old Way route I found on the Gough Map, Britain’s oldest road map. The truth is, I only found this by following Daily Mail clickbait. But that’s how everyday synchronicity works.

 

Pilgrimage, as a connective activity, naturally encourages co-incidence and syn-chrony.  This is the whole point. It forms connections. The pilgrim becomes the connective ligament between places, communities and landscapes, and the journey becomes s connective metaphor for the pilgrims whole existence. If you are a follower of faith, the journey will bring you closer to your God. This is how pilgrimage functions. It forms connections, slowly, thoroughly, and on foot.

 

The Old Way route is Europe’s pilgrimage route to Canterbury. It was erased from history by Henry VIII, but thankfully this wonderful Gough Map survived to show its path. It connects Southampton with Cantebury, and it has been plotted to follow the best possible path. The BPT mantra for route-planning is ‘Maximum Holy, Minimum Road’. Old Way is launching in 2020. I’m currently writing the guidebook. I think it ‘may’ become one of the world’s best-loved caminos. Watch this space.

 

 

FHR: In addition to more established notions of ‘folk horror’ FHR also explores psychogeography, hauntology, folklore, cultural rituals and costume, earth mysteries, archaic history, hauntings, Southern Gothic, ‘landscapism/visionary naturalism & geography’, backwoods, murder ballads, carnivalia, dark psychedelia, wyrd Forteana and other strange edges. Are there any experiences which you have had during your various pilgrimages which speak to the theme of the haunted landscape?

 

Dark and light are strange bedfellows. Through pilgrimage, I have slept in long barrows and haunted houses, have drunk from holy wells and river sources, have sung in caves, chapels and hollow trees, to cows, snails, nightingales, refugees, madmen and Princes. I have been given food, shelter, symbols, songs, maps, lessons, animals, quests, and (once) a diamond. I have followed rivers from source to sea, and sung to their every tributary. I’ve made pilgrimage to battle sites, river confluences, hilltops, graves, pubs, hedges, trees, cathedrals, people, and an invisible palace (once). I’ve met prostitutes, mercenaries, psychics and oil tycoons. Once, I met a giant, and surrendered it my life. There have been several ghosts, and possibly one angel.

 

But the strangest thing that has ever happened, and the oddest encounter I have ever experienced as a wandering minstrel or a pilgrim, is me. Being me is the strangest challenge of my life. But it’s also pretty much the only thing I have any choice over.  I think we all know this.

 

FHR: Do you have some final reflections for Folk Horror Revivalists?

 

I’d like to leave this interview with a core message. You are already a pilgrim. And there is a journey that you already know you need to make.  So name the place that may offer your hoped-for wholeness, the completeness you lack. This is your destination, and a holy place.  Then tell yourself what answer or blessing you seek. This is your intention, and you should hold it closely. Then walk. Carry your intention to your destination, and when the two meet, connection will be made.

 

That’s pilgrimage, in a nut-shell. And now the tradition is as much yours as mine.

 

See you on the path. Walk well.

 

 

FHR Footnote: In March 2020 Will Parsons announced that he was standing down from his role at the British Pilgrimage Trust in order to follow other paths. One of these is the path from his home in Canterbury to Anglesey (and back), his aim being to connect these two great centres of British spirituality. His journey can be followed at @willwalking. Folk Horror Revival wishes Will all the best in his future travels.

Interview with Jackie Morris

 

Jackie Morris is a British writer and illustrator whose work is informed by a deep love of the natural world. Her books have been published in fourteen languages and The Lost Words, which she illustrated was voted the most beautiful book of 2016 by UK booksellers. She lives in Pembrokeshire by the sea and is fascinated by bears and myths of transformation.  Folk Horror Revival’s John Pilgrim was pleased to catch up with Jackie last year to make the following enquiries about her world.

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FHR: Let me firstly provide a bit of context for those Folk Horror Revivalists who may not be familiar with The Lost Worlds by quoting from the cover jacket of the book.

 

“All over the country, there are words disappearing from children’s lives. These are the words of the natural world — Dandelion, Otter, Bramble and Acorn, all gone. The rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly fading from our children’s minds. The Lost Words stands against the disappearance of wild childhood. It is a joyful celebration of nature words and the natural world they invoke. With acrostic spell-poems by award-winning writer Robert Macfarlane and hand-painted illustration by Jackie Morris, this enchanting book captures the irreplaceable magic of language and nature for all ages.”

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FHR: The Lost Words has enchanted many people in the deepest sense of the word. Can you share some stories about the effect which it has had on people. How has their understanding and experience of the natural world changed?

 

JM: Since the launch of The Lost Words at Foyles in 2017 it has taken on a life of its own. Robert and I are both astonished and heart-glad at the way it has been taken into people’s hearts and homes. There have been so many tales sent to us, of how people have shared it with loved ones living with dementia, of how it has helped people to cope with depression, of how it links generations in families, how teachers respond to it, and children also.

 

It has an amazing wild life. I love how people send us pictures of the book outside in the world, tucked up with children, the work that children have done with the book as catalyst.

 

 

FHR: The introduction to The Lost Words warns us that the rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly fading from children’s minds. It’s been inspiring to see the efforts that have been made to make the book freely available to children through schools and libraries. Can you tell us some more about this?

 

JM: It began with a tweet from a lady in Scotland who saw how the book could connect children to nature again.  She made it her mission to crowdfund to place a book in every school in Scotland.  Her success snowballed into several other campaigns, and I think the Explorer’s Notes, which are a wonderful guide to using the book in schools, also helped with this. Now almost half of the UK schools, hospices over the whole of the UK, care homes in Wales and other institutions have been gifted the book by what has grown to be a great community of crowdfunders. Their energy and enthusiasm for the book and for working beyond its pages to reconnect the lives of children and adults to the more than human world around us all is wonderful.

FHR:  The notion of wild imagination and wild play is one that strikes a chord – are there signs of hope in rekindling wildness which you’ve become aware of?

 

JM: The young people who are rising up against the ignorance, arrogance and greed of older generations gives me hope. The new wave of politically minded and erudite youngsters put our politicians and their self-serving party politics to shame.

 

 

FHR: What role does myth and folklore play in your artistic practice and experience of the natural world?

 

In the same way that some people see themselves as set apart from the natural world, when they are in fact only the tiniest part of the wonderful biosphere, so are storytellers the new myth makers. As a species we are hardwired to learn through the power of story.

I write, I illustrate, to try and make sense of the crazy world we live in, and my hope is that in so doing I help other people to do the same. And there are some powerful minds working in the field at the moment. Richard Powers’ Overstory is a case in point, teaching people to see, really see, and seek out the trees that every day are taken for granted.

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FHR: Having been being fascinated by peregrines as a boy while on holiday in Pembrokeshire I loved your book Queen of the Sky.   For those who aren’t familiar with this book, could you say a little about the themes which you explore here?

 

JM: Queen of the Sky is a book about how a friend of mine found and rescued a wild peregrine falcon and released her back into the wild. It’s a story of great patience. A love story in a way, but one where something is loved so much that the person who loves it sets it free, to be as it should be. It’s a story about respect. And if H is for Hawk is a tale of how a woman was saved by a hawk, this is a tale of how a hawk is saved by a woman.

 

FHR: What landscapes particularly inspire you?

JM: Terrestrial. Including the ocean, above and below.

 

FHR: I read that you have been learning to work with wood engravings. How has this been for you?

 

JM: I’ve moved away from wood engravings. My eyesight is perhaps not good enough for the fine detail. But also my language is liquid and sumi ink has taken over as my medium of choice. But as with everything it takes a lifetime to master. But I am learning.

FHR:  In his book Being a Beast Charles Foster relays his experiences of seeking to live as animals such as badgers and foxes. I’m not sure whether you would want to go as far as eating worms as Foster has done, but I sense that through your art you are seeking to bring us closer to animals as fellow spirits?

 

JM: I’ve not read it yet. I wanted to be a bear when I was young, but would happily become an otter. And most of my work is about shapeshifting.

FHR: To what extent do you think it is important to acknowledge that despite its beauty nature is also ‘red in tooth and claw’?  Are there dangers in projecting human characteristics on to animals?

 

JM: I’m not a fan of ego-centric anthropomorphism if that’s what you mean. Is nature ‘red in tooth and claw’? That implies some morality? It’s not always kind. But we know so little about the world around us. It has so much to teach us. We just need to listen.

 

 

FHR: Which fellow artists and writers do you admire?

 

JM: So many. I love Robin Hobb’s books. Robert Macfarlane is an exceptional writer, and I need to explore Richard Powers more. John Irving has long been a favourite of mine.  Katherine Arden, James Mayhew, Brian Wildsmith, Chagall, Tunnicliffe, Alan Garner, Shaun Tan, Frieda Kahlo, Tom Bullough. Nicola Bailey, oh, so many. Picasso.  Look at me with my gender imbalance of people who spring to mind! (Though Robin Hobb is a woman, who writes under a gender-neutral name, because many men don’t read books by women.)

 

 

FHR: What are you working on at the moment and what projects would you like to take forward in the future?

 

JM: I’m working with the finest group of musicians to make a cd/lp and show built around The Lost Words. I’m working on a book that was written almost a century ago, writing a forward to re-introduce it to the world and painting images to decorate/illustrate it [now published as The House Without Windows]. I’m working on a book called The Keeper of Lost Dreams that I hope will be a catalyst for dreaming and a solace for troubled souls in our curious and turbulent times. And I am beginning to work on a new book with Robert, but that’s under wraps at the moment until we understand more of what it is that we are making [Ed: this has now been published as The Lost Spells; other recent publications include Mrs Noah’s Garden, with James Mayhew, published by Otter-Barry Books and The Secret of the Tattered Shoes with Ehsan Abdollahi, a wonderful Iranian illustrator, published by Tiny Owl.]

 

I’m also trying to take time to open my eyes to the wonderful wild world around me, wide as wide can be, and understand what is important, what time is, and how to live.

 

British Folk Horror TV of the ’50s

In this series of articles I hope to create as complete a list as possible of folk horror-relevant programmes produced for British television, hopefully including documentaries and others that are not strictly folk horror but which are still relevant.

There will doubtless be some missing, so if you have any updates, additions, corrections etc. please either write in the comments or tweet to @folk_horror, and hopefully the article can be kept updated. Also if you have recollections of watching lost and forgotten productions from when they were broadcast I’d love to hear them.

This first part spans the 1940s and 1950s. Very little survives from this era due to most productions being performed live and not recorded, and most of what was recorded was not retained. There is also limited information that I could find for many of these productions and I’ve been fairly inclusive, so there may be some listed which didn’t have a significant component of what would now be considered folk horror.

Saturday Night Stories (15 mins, 20 episodes?)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 24th Jan 1948-22nd Oct 1949

Archive Status/ Availability: Missing

Notes: BBC Genome lists most of these as having been read by the author Algernon Blackwood, but also mentions readings by another famous writer of weird fiction, Lord Dunsany. Also mentioned are ones by Compton Mackenzie and Sir Christopher Lynch Robinson, so it is likely the series was not all supernatural. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find any details of which stories were read, and although there were 20 broadcast some of the stories may have been repeated.

Algernon Blackwood also appeared in a 1949 series entitled A Strange Experience produced by Rayant Pictures, but again I was unable to discover where they were broadcast. Six episodes were made, and two episodes have been made available by the BFI to view online here:

‘Lock Your Door’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRy4D11qc8I

‘The Reformation of St. Jules’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATAOHgHJv3E

http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/search/0/20?adv=1&order=asc&q=saturday+night+stories&svc=9371533&yf=1948&yt=1949#search

https://nicklouras.wordpress.com/2018/01/21/rare-film-of-algernon-blackwood/

Algernon Blackwood in ‘The Reformation of St. Jules’

Sunday-Night Theatre – ‘Witch Wood’ (1 hr 30 mins)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 30th May & 3rd Jun 1954

Archive status/ Availability: Missing

Notes: Adaptation of John Buchan’s 1927 novel about a witch cult surviving into the mid-17th century in the Scottish Borders. The play was performed live on Sunday evening and again the following Thursday, but neither performance is known to have been recorded. A second BBC adaptation was broadcast in 1964.

Two Ghost Stories (30 mins)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 14th Oct 1954

Archive status/ Availability: Missing

Notes: Readings of two short stories by M.R. James with visual effects added live: ‘Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook’ (narrated by Robert Farquharson) and ‘The Mezzotint’ (narrated by George Rose).

http://www.pardoes.info/roanddarroll/MediaList.html#anchor7441

The Creature (1 hr 30 mins)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 30th Jan & 3rd Feb 1955

Archive status/ Availability: Missing

Notes: Nigel Kneale play about an expedition led by Dr. John Rollason (Peter Cushing) into the Himalayas in search of the mysterious Yeti or Abominable Snowman. The play was performed live (with pre-filmed inserts shot in the Alps) twice, once on Sunday and again on the following Thursday, but as was standard at the time neither was recorded. However, Hammer Studios released a movie adaptation in 1957, re-titled The Abominable Snowman with Peter Cushing reprising his role, and this is available on DVD.

http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/8e051ddcfcc14ae29640692616d159ec [original Radio Times listing]

http://www.britishtelevisiondrama.org.uk/?p=1141 [In depth article about the TV production]

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Abominable-Snowman-DVD-Peter-Cushing/dp/B0058CLCNY [Hammer Studios version on DVD]

Poster for Hammer Studios adaptation of The Creature

Colonel March of Scotland Yard (27 mins approx., 26 episodes in total, relevant episodes below)

Broadcast details: ITV/ 1955-56

Archive status/ Availability: All still exist, and are available on Amazon Prime UK at the time of writing

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Colonel-March-of-Scotland-Yard/dp/B01IAGGZJU

Notes: A detective series starring Boris Karloff as Colonel March. which included the following apparently supernatural episodes although I’m not sure they can be called folk horror. Episode descriptions taken from Amazon:

1. ‘The Sorcerer’ (1st Oct 1955)

"A psychologist is found stabbed to death in a seemingly sealed room. Inspector March needs to decide who had the most reason to kill him, and how did they accomplish the task."

2. ‘The Abominable Snowman’ (8th Oct 1955)

"Members of the Himalayan Mountaineering Club are threatened by what appears to be the abominable snowman, and someone leaves a strange footprint on a ledge outside Colonel March’s office."

3. ‘Present Tense’ (15th Oct 1955)

"Colonel March’s niece, a believer in spiritualism, thinks she hears her dead husband’s voice and others in the house become convinced her husband has returned as a ghost. But has he?"

11. ‘The Talking Head’ (17th Dec 1955)

"A 12-year-old boy insists his dead father told him to kill his mother’s new fiancée. But did the father truly die in an accidental plane crash?"

23. ‘The Case of the Lively Ghost’ (31st Dec 1955)

"A phony spiritualist believes she’s truly summoned a real ghost. Colonel March attends her next seance to discover the identity of the spirit’s killer- dead or alive."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonel_March_of_Scotland_Yard

Boris Karloff as Colonel March of Scotland Yard

Days of Grace (45 mins)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 18th Sep 1956

Archive status/ Availability: Missing

A Scottish ghost story based on a story by David Forbes Lorne, adapted by Moultrie R. Kelsall: "When somebody dies, his first duty is to keep watch from sunset until the day breaks, every night until the next dead soul relieves him…"

http://genome.ch.bbc.co.uk/471624ea5e964cbea41d9aee8367d9a7

Out of Step – Witchcraft (25 mins)

Broadcast details: ITV/ 4th Dec 1957

Archive status/ Availability: Exists, and available as an extra on the BFI’s Blu-Ray and DVD release of 1970s witchsploitation films Secret Rites and Legend of the Witches

https://shop.bfi.org.uk/pre-order-legend-of-the-witches-secret-rites-flipside-039-dual-format-edition.html

Notes: Out of Step was a series of documentary shorts looking at “unconventional opinions”, and in this edition presenter Daniel Farson interviewed Margaret Murray and Gerald Gardner about witchcraft, and discussed Aleister Crowley with Louis Wilkinson.

White Hunter – ‘Voodoo Wedding’ (30 mins)

Broadcast details: ITV/ 15th Oct 1958

Archive status/ Availability: Exists, but currently unavailable

Notes: White Hunter (1957-58) is a series about a Big Game hunter (appropriately called John Hunter) and his African assistant Atimbu which was shot in England with stock footage of Africa. In this episode a young woman believes she may have become the victim of a Voodoo curse. Probably not relevant but included for completeness.

https://web.archive.org/web/20170923163501/http://www.zone-sf.com/voodoouk.html [Archived version of 'Britain under the spell: representations of voodoo in British films and TV' by Paul Higson]

http://ctva.biz/UK/ITC/WhiteHunter.htm[White Hunter episode guide]

Armchair Theatre – ‘The Witching Hour’

Broadcast details: ITV/ 2nd Nov 1958

Archive status/ Availability: Missing

Notes: Quite possibly not relevant, but included for completeness.

"Jack Brookfield, a gambler with clairvoyant and hypnotic powers, is able to win at cards through his unique gift. But when he inadvertently hypnotizes young Clay Thorne, Thorne kills an enemy of Brookfield’s while under a trance. No one believes Brookfield’s protestations that Thorne is innocent of any murderous intent, so Brookfield teams up with retired lawyer Martin Prentice in hopes of saving the young man from the gallows."

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1092687/ [Episode synopsis]

ITV Play of the Week – ‘The Crucible’ (1 hr 15 mins)

Broadcast details: ITV/ 3rd Nov 1959

Archive status/ Availability: Reels 1 and 2 of 3 exist, but the complete programme is lost

Notes: Adaptation of the play by Arthur Miller about the 17th century witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts, with early pre-fame appearances by Sean Connery and Susannah York.

The Voodoo Factor (30 mins, 6 episodes)

Broadcast details: ITV/ 12th Dec 1959-16th Jan 1960

Archive status/ Availability: Exists complete, but currently unavailable

Notes: A scientist battles against a killer epidemic that may either be caused by the curse of a Spider Goddess or contamination caused by nuclear testing. It’s surprising that a series from this era still exists complete, and a shame that it hasn’t been released on DVD as it is fondly remembered by reviewers on imdb.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0191746/?ref_=wl_li_tt

Quatermass and the Pit (30-35 mins, 6 episodes)

Broadcast details: BBC/ 22nd December 1958 – 26th January 1959

Archive status/ Availability: Exists complete, and available on DVD with the two surviving episodes of The Quatermass Experiment and the complete Quatermass 2 series

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Quatermass-Collection-Experiment-Pit-DVD/dp/B000772838

Notes: A series that really should need no introduction. While the previous two Quatermass serials had dealt with sci-fi topics, for the third one Nigel Kneale dug deep into brought in everything from ghosts, goblins, the Devil, aliens, psychic powers and more. Hammer Studios re-made it as a feature film in 1967.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Quatermass-Pit-DVD-Andrew-Keir/dp/B000HEVTKY [Hammer Studios adaptation on DVD]

Three principal sources, in addition to the obvious ones of imdb and Wikipedia, were invaluable while researching this article:

TVBrain – Database of British TV run by Kaleidoscope, dedicated to rediscovering lost British TV and have been instrumental in recovering many previously thought lost productions. Their work is ongoing and lost shows still turn up, so if you think you have a programme from the archives you can check and contact them.

https://www.tvbrain.info/

Haunted TV: A history of British supernatural television – a very comprehensive listing of British programmes, many extremely obscure, although it seems to no longer be updated.

http://webspace.webring.com/people/th/hauntedtv/index.htm

The Telefantasy List – A sadly defunct listing of principally British and American telefantasy, which is still available at the Internet Archive

https://web.archive.org/web/20160304084734/http://homepage.ntlworld.com/john.seymour1/telefantasylist/index.html

Article by Richard Hing. Thanks to all the contributors to Folk Horror Revival for giving many suggestions over the years that have helped build this list.

Winter Ghosts Announcement Number 2

Apologies for the delay in publishing this, our second Winter Ghosts announcement, but we have been very busy bringing together a lineup that will hopefully whet the appetite of Revivalists everywhere. Anyway, without further ado here are our latest additions to the lineup.

The Soulless Party

 

 

Since 2013 Chris Lambert and Kev Oyston of the Soulless Party have worked tirelessly to bring the mysteries and secrets of the Black Meadow into the public eye. As everyone knows The Black Meadow is located just a few miles from Whitby on the outskirts of the village of Sleights. A strange place where, it is said, that if the mist rises a village will appear. This a place populated by tales of horse-men, meadow hags, land spheres, rag and bone men, maidens of mist, strange rituals and unexplained phenomena. It is no coincidence that this is where the MOD chose to put one of their bases – RAF Fylingdales whose strange Golf Ball Radomes dominated the landscape until the early 1990’s. The Soulless Party will launch their new collection of findings at Whitby Ghosts as they share a haunting mix of music, song, stories, images and interviews. This will be a hauntological experience in which folk horror meets urban legend through the medium of electronica tinged memory and dream.

Find out more about Black Meadow and The Soulless Party by visiting:
Sarah Steel
sarah

Sarah Steele graduated from Durham with a Degree in Geology in1992. She has since qualified as a professional gemmologist and was awarded Fellowship of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain in 2013, and subsequently Diamond Fellowship in 2015. Sarah is also a member of the International Accredited Gemologists Association and is a regularly asked to speak and deliver workshops at gem conferences around the world. She is also a freelance writer for Gems and Jewellery Magazine. Sarah’s particular expertise lies in the identification of natural thermoset and thermoplastic materials used in C19th jewellery, and she is considered the world’s leading authority on the Jet Group of gemstones. Her research collaborations are challenging our previous perceptions of the material jet. Sarah will return to Durham university in October to continue her postgraduate research on the subject. We are very pleased to have Sarah with us in December to give us a rather fascinating talk on her key topic of interest, Whitby Jet. Sarah is the only scientist currently working in the field of Jet research, and as such it is a prilevege for us at Folk Horror Revival to have her on board to present especially for us a talk about her research and the cultural and historic importance of this most beautiful and tactile gem.

Home

Barbara Ravelhofer

Barbara Ravelhofer is Professor in English Literature at Durham University and a Research Associate of the Centre for History and Economics, Cambridge. After a degree in English and German Literature from the University of Munich she continued for her Ph.D. at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was awarded a Junior Research Fellowship at St John’s College. She has also held Visiting Fellowships at the Universities of Bologna, Princeton, and Harvard.

barbara ravelhofer

Professor Ravelhofer is co-director of the Records of Early English Drama North-East, which is sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The key aim of the organisation is to find, catalogue and edit all records pertaining to music, spectacle, ceremony, dance and theatre in England’s North-East from about the ninth century to 1642. The project is directed by Prof. Ravelhofer in collaboration with Prof. John McKinnell and the Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS) Durham, the Cathedral and Durham’s World Heritage Site. Prof. Ravelhofer will be speaking to us about the history and folklore behind this wonderful tradition, and whilst the good professor herself is a big enough coup she will also be accompanied by an actual Mari Lwyd who will be loose in the auditorium.

For further details about the Records of Early English Drama North-East please see the project website.

Peter Kennedy

Dark Arts Circus - me in top hat and O

Peter Kennedy is a writer born in a North-East fishing village, who as a child was told a story about how the plague moved up country in the 17th century. In it, the fishermen decided that the best way to stave off the pestilence would be to throw fishing nets over the archway leading to the headland.  This legend was the inspiration for Peter to write his story Behind the Net Curtain, which would become the opening chapter of his debut novel Fishermen’s Tales. Inspired by that story Peter went off on a quest for more northern folklore that celebrated its maritime heritage. He trawled the seas, combed the beaches and crafted a collection of dark fables, from sea coal and rumour, and driftwood and bullshit.

The stories compiled in Fishermen’s Tales are part of an older oral tradition that were shared around campfires and passed down through generations. In reference to the book Peter says he is “trying to reclaim and romanticise the working class heritage that I came from. I read at a poetry club one night and one of the other performers said ‘this guy’s brought his own mythology’. I thought, ‘yeah, he gets it!” Over time the novel became a project that included musical accompaniment and theatrical performance, which is what Peter will be bringing to Winter Ghosts this December.

CrossInverted

That’s it for this announcement, they join Burd Ellen, Al Ridenour, Elaine Edmunds, Laurence Mitchell and George Cromack on this year’s lineup. We still have one or two acts to announce and our programme of short films to come, but we’ll leave those for another time. Tickets are available now, priced at the princely sum of £13 sterling for the full day or just £7 for the evening session, these are available from Eventbrite at the link below.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/folk-horror-revival-presents-winter-ghosts-tickets-55468722442

 

A Guide for the Curious – An interview with Sarah K. Marr

Christmas has been a traditional time for the telling of tales of ghosts and the supernatural for many years, and the Edwardian author M.R. James’ short stories have become the most intimately associated with the season, as I’m sure needs no introduction to anyone reading this.

One of his most highly regarded stories is “A Warning to the Curious”, first published in 1925 and adapted by the BBC in 1972 for their Ghost Stories for Christmas strand.

Author Sarah K. Marr recently published an immensely detailed annotated guide to “A Warning to the Curious” on her website which thoroughly explores all aspects of the tale, accompanied by evocative photographs, illustrations, maps and much more.

You can download Sarah’s annotated “Warning to the Curious” here:
http://sarahkmarr.com/

Sarah kindly agreed to speak to Folk Horror Revival about the project.

Folk Horror Revival: Hi Sarah, thanks for agreeing to talk to us at Folk Horror Revival. Can you introduce yourself please?

Sarah Marr: Hi, Folk Horror Revival. I’m Sarah K. Marr, and I’m a writer living near London. I published my debut novel earlier this year—pretty sure I’m contractually obliged to say, All the Perverse Angels, available through all good bookshops—and now I’m turning my thoughts to writing the next one. You can follow me on Twitter, @sarahkmarr, if that’s your thing. Anyway, you’re talking to me because of my guide to M.R. James’s “A Warning to the Curious”.

FHR: What led to your fascination with the works of M.R. James and folk horror in general?

SM: I first read James when at I was at school, and then, some years later, I revisited his work whilst I was living alone in a small, old cottage in the Cotswolds: a perfect environment for those stories. For me, James provides the quintessential model for the English ghost story, the ‘urtext’ from which everything else is derived. Having said that, I do realize it’s a very ahistorical perspective—one can see the influence of earlier works in James’s writing—and that there’s a certain sensibility necessary for becoming immersed in James’s stories. Still, at a personal level, “Is this as good as James?” is a test for any uncanny tale I read.

I grew up in the seventies, so a lot of the ‘hauntological’ nostalgia—I use the term without negative connotations—which is around now harks back to my childhood: it’s still the Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water which keeps me away from disused quarries. Children of the Stones was shown when I was seven, and a year or two later my parents took me to Avebury, where we took it in turns to touch the stones and collapse with appropriate drama. I read Alan Garner, too, and was particularly fond of Red Shift and The Owl Service, both of which shift away from the more fantastical worlds of his Elidor or The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and carry elements of more earthly myth across time periods. I came to The Wicker Man—the ‘gateway drug’ of folk horror—quite a bit later, and I’ve had a stronger focus on folk horror in my reading over the past couple of years, partly as a way of exploring narrative and the construction of story for my own work. There’s also something about the way folk horror is so situated in the landscape which lends itself to photographic interpretation, and then, it seems to me, it’s a question of finding the balance between atmosphere and the avoidance of photographic cliché: I can’t claim that I’m always successful.

FHR: Despite many of the books, films and TV series being around for many years it is only recently that ‘folk horror’ has become a ‘thing’. Do you have any thoughts on why folk horror has become such a growing area of interest to so many people?

SM: It’s one of those things which has arisen from the coming together of many threads, and I’m certainly not the best person to assess them all. Partly, I suspect, it’s a reaction to a language of horror—particularly in films—based around the urban experience, and a desire to ‘reconnect’ with the wider environment. Then there’s the overlap with hauntology, in its broadest sense, and the revisiting of works from the 70s and 80s which itself was grounded in folklore. (Although that, of course, raises the same question about the reasons for folk horror’s prevalence in those years. Flight from the technological realities of the Cold War, perhaps?) There’s also the effect of key pieces and players which cross genres or spheres of influence: The League of Gentleman, for example, bridging horror through comedy, a span which Mark Gatiss so effortlessly crosses and recrosses, of course. Even having the term “folk horror” has helped creators and commentators to coalesce around a shared, if somewhat amorphous, centre of commonality. In a Twitter thread last year I managed to trace its use back to 1936 (in The English Journal, Volume 25, University of Chicago Press), but it’s only really become a mainstream term-of-art in the past few years.

FHR: What was the thing that kickstarted the trip? Were you already familiar with the area so knew where to begin?

SM: I mention in the introduction to the “Annotated Warning to the Curious” that my mother’s unwell, and it was her desire to visit the sea which took me to Aldeburgh. I’d been there a couple of times before, so I had a rough idea of the place. I was also vaguely aware of the connection to James, and it seemed a good way to give the visit a focus; something to take our minds away from illness and into the landscape. The existing guides—particularly those by Darroll Pardoe and Adam Scovell—were a great place to start. “A Podcast to the Curious” has two superb episodes on “A Warning…”, to which I listened on the journey to the coast. Those episodes include an interview with Tom Baynham about his own trip to Aldeburgh to find James’s inspirations. I owe them all my thanks.

FHR: The wide-open landscapes of East Anglia seem to be especially inspirational for many writers of ghost stories. What is about the area that has prompted this?

SM: I’m pretty sure that a full answer to that question requires at least a PhD thesis. I will say, though, that topographically it’s a haunting landscape: flat, unpeopled, windswept. It has about it some element of the Romantic sublime: simultaneously awesome and enveloping, desolate and beautiful. Then, the history of the place adds layer upon layer of meaning and interpretation, each leaving its own traces, building foundations for the next. So, the liminality of the place—the sense that it’s a hinterland for sea, marsh, and downs—extends beyond topography, back through time. All of this, somehow, brings its own melancholy, often hidden just beneath the surface, but always sensed.

FHR: Did you sense any menacing presences over your shoulder or glimpse anything in the corner of your eye as you were wandering around the locations?

SM: I’m one of those people for whom the oh-so-delicious ‘scare’ of horror is partnered with an irreconcilable discontinuity between fiction and reality. A lack of belief in the reality of what one’s reading should remove the ability for it to disturb, but it doesn’t, even as each perspective tries to undermine the other: somehow, it works. So, I’m not one for ‘presences’, but I am one for letting my imagination run wild and facing the consequences. Friston church, early in the morning, was cold and silent and gave me the sense that it’s never truly unoccupied. But for sheer Jamesian disquiet, the award must go to the walk through the empty marshes from Sluice Cottage (supposed home of William Ager) to Paxton’s dig site. Then, I confess, I did look over my shoulder from time to time.

FHR: Such a huge amount of background detail is included in your guide that you must have spent many hours searching through dusty tomes in a manner reminiscent of James’ study of Medieval manuscripts. How many hours were you spent secluded in libraries? Equally how many days were spent traipsing up and down the lonely coastline seeking the locations?

SM: I wish I had been able to spend more time in old libraries: they, together with bookshops, are two of my favourite places in world. I have fond memories of the Bodleian and college libraries in Oxford, and, more recently, the Library of Congress. However, the research for this guide was all done at home, over the course of a month, mostly through Google Books coupled with census and newspaper searches made available through membership of my local library. (Libraries really are awesome.)

Half of my novel is set in 1887, and I used Google Books for a lot of contemporary texts for that, too, so I’ve had some practice. It’s a lot more effective for pre-c.1930 works, which are generally available as complete texts. Luckily, that covers the texts available to James, and much of his own output. The trick is to use the books one finds as one would if they were printed and taken from a library shelf: use their references to find other books, rather than relying solely on individual searches. Then the research grows more ‘organically’, and with more access to obscure details. It doesn’t help, of course, that searching for “M.R. James” turns up every “Mr James” ever printed: one has to go full “Montague Rhodes”.

I do, though, have two printed and well-thumbed copies of The Collected Ghost Stories, a battered first edition of James’s Suffolk and Norfolk, an e-book of the Ash-Tree Press’s A Pleasing Terror, and a fascimile of the 1925 O.S. map of Aldeburgh. I can’t make the trip back to Aldeburgh at the moment, but when I can, I want to use the library there to get tide tables and weather reports and, if possible, to track down a picture of the battery which used to sit by the martello tower.

As for traipsing, I had an afternoon and a morning in Aldeburgh. The afternoon covered the martello tower photographs and allowed me to scope out the rest of the in-town locations and the Sluice Cottage. The following day I got up at 6am and headed out whilst everyone else was asleep. That let me take the unpopulated photographs of the beach, the White Lion, and the churches at Aldeburgh and Froston. Then, after breakfast, there was time to visit Paxton’s dig site and Theberton church. I only identified some of the other locations, or potential locations—Thorpeness Halt station, Woolpit church, Walton Castle—when doing further research after the trip.

Anyway, it is possible to see everything in a fairly short amount of time, and my hope is that someone following in my, and James’s, and Paxton’s footsteps can visit Aldeburgh with all the information they need in one place, and situate themselves within the story itself.

FHR: Do you have any plans for further wanderings in the landscape of M.R. James?

SM: Perhaps: I love this kind of research, and James’s stories have just the right balance of fiction and real-world underpinnings for it to be effective. I was in Somerset recently and, entirely coincidentally, found myself driving past the New Inn in Sampford Courtenay, Devon, which appears in James’s “Martin’s Close”. I have a rather prosaic photograph of it. (I’ve also got a set of then-and-now photographs of Avebury, based on shots in Children of the Stones, and I ought to do something with them.) But undertaking something as detailed as the work on “A Warning to the Curious” is more of a challenge, so I’ll have to wait and see what opportunities present themselves.

Right now, my priorities are working on my own stories, and finishing a stage-/screen-play of “A Warning to the Curious”. I’d recommend the BBC’s 1972 adaption to anyone: although filmed in Norfolk, and although Paxton (played superbly by Peter Vaughan) is older than in James’s description, it does a phenomenal job of capturing the chilling essence of the story. Still, the layers in James’s tale mean there’s so much to bring out, and so many interpretations which can deliver real emotion without deviating from the text in any major way. I’m determined to explore them further. All I have to do now is find someone to stage/film it (and that’s always the toughest part).

FHR: Thank you Sarah for taking the time to speak to us about your Jamesian wanderings and best of luck with your future writings, looking forward to seeing what you come up with next.

Sarah’s book All the Perverse Angels can be purchased here:
And don’t forget to follow Sarah on Twitter here:
Interview conducted by Richard Hing
All photos ©Sarah K. Marr

A New Title from Wyrd Harvest Press – Fleet by Jane Burn

New from Wyrd Harvest Press ~

Fleet by Jane Burn

jane burn

“Fleet is a ‘weltersong’ of desire and otherness. An epic saga of shapeshifting enchantment and an all too familiar drama of longing, banishment, abuse, survival and love. Jane Burn brings her unique vision, wild wordplay and stunning image-making to the evocation of the folklore of the Witch-Hare, and the voices of Motherdoe, Fleet and Daughterhare with the full force of mythic tragedy and Ovidian metamorphosis.” – Bob Beagrie, poet

http://www.lulu.com/shop/jane-burn/fleet/paperback/product-23888091.html

The Dark Masters Trilogy, A Review

Dark-Masters-Trilogy_Cover-IMAGE-216x300

The Dark Masters Trilogy comprise of a trio of novellas from acclaimed horror writer Stephen Volk, a member of the select group of Welsh writers alongside Arthur Machen, whose work is held in the highest esteem within horror circles. Volk is most famous for his scriptwriting work on Ken Russell’s Gothic, and above all else the BBC drama Ghostwatch.

The Dark Masters Trilogy brings together three novellas, Whitstable, Leytonstone and Netherwood as a trio of dark tales of fiction constructed around a quartet of celebrated horror and occult figures from the 20th Century’s cultural past. Hammer legend Peter Cushing takes the lead role in Whitstable, a juvenile Alfred Hitchcock in Leytonstone and we get a twofer in Netherwood with both horror novelist Dennis Wheatley and Occultist Aleister Crowley squaring up to one another.

stephen volk

Whitstable is up first. This is a story about the darker side of the 1970s that takes place in Peter Cushing’s beloved Whitstable in the period directly after the death of his much cherished wife, Helen. The story itself features some wonderfully written characters, and an interesting and well developed plot, however the real genius here is Volk’s touching portrayal of Cushing at this most difficult time in his life. The whole novella revolves around his incredible portrait of the horror legend as a broken man, the loss of his soul mate had rendered him a physical and mental wreck until a chance encounter with a young boy who mistakes him for the character he portrays on screen, the vampire hunter Dr Van Helsing. This leads to Cushing undertaking the role of investigator, delving into a crime that has been committed against the young boy, and saving himself at the same time.

Leytonstone is a story based on the childhood of Alfred Hitchcock that examines the roots of his fascination with crime and punishment, the two factors that form the basis for much of his cinematic output. The story begins with the young Hitchcock incarcerated in a police cell for a crime he did not commit. His Father had him locked up for a night to teach him a lesson. This inspires the young Fred as he was known to further investigate these ideas of crime and punishment with severe repercussions for those involved.  Once again this is beautifully written, Volk once again highlighting his incredible turn of phrase and attention to detail, as well as his incredible knack for writing wholly believable characters. Despite much of this story being fictional you feel as though you are delving into the mind of the real Hitchcock, such is Stephen Volk’s incredible talent for writing character.

Netherwood is the final entry in the trilogy. Volk imagines a meeting between two of the most important figures in the Twentieth Century occult world, Dennis Wheatley and Aleister Crowley. Once again Stephen Volk has created a truly believable work of fiction by rooting it in facts. An aging Crowley requests the presence of Wheatley at Netherwood, the guest house in Hastings that was to be Crowley’s last resort. A visibly sick and dying Crowley requests Wheatleys assistance to complete one one final magickal working before his death. The interplay between the two men who never actually met in real life is excellent and you really do get the sense that this is exactly how these events would have  played out had they actually happened. This is of course Stephen Volk’s greatest achievement, his characters are so well researched and developed that he almost instinctively knows how they would behave in almost any scenario. A rare commodity indeed and one that should be cherished.

The Dark Masters Trilogy is a triumph, a beautifully written volume that takes the Twentieth Century’s most infamous practitioners of horror and the dark arts and places them into new scenarios. Stephen Volk has written three fictional tales, that are so believable as to be future urban legends, such is the power of his writing, the great attention to detail, and his knowledge of the history of horror and the occult. You simply can’t imagine these stories having the same impact in anyone else’s hands. Each tale having its roots in fact provides a strong base for Volk’s writing, whether this is Cushing’s sad loss, Hitchcock’s incarceration, or Crowley’s final days at Netherwood.

As many of you will already be aware, Stephen Volk is a visionary writer in the field of horror and these novellas are a very strong addition to an already richly acclaimed career. I simply cannot recommend these tales highly enough.

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The Dark Masters Trilogy is published by PS Publishing and is available to order from their website now at the link below.

https://www.pspublishing.co.uk/the-dark-masters-trilogy–hardcover-by-stephen-volk-4696-p.asp

 

The ancient streets too dead for dreaming….. (a book review)

The ancient streets too dead for dreaming – interview and review by Jim Peters

`It was the morning a scarecrow ran across the field and got tangled up in the fence that I realised the game was really up.’

Any book of tales that includes one that starts with these opening lines and claims to have been collected by the author from the residents of Low Scaraby has surely got to be worth picking up and investigating? How right you are…….

“Too Dead For Dreaming is a collection of 23 stories of weirdness, wonder and woe. Most are stand-alone but in several there is the setting of Low Scaraby. It’s a village that’s hidden in the gently rolling Wolds of Lincolnshire. Most people will not have heard of it and that’s pretty much how the villagers like it. I know a few people there and have been able to pick up on some of the stories of the place. A lot of people say there’s something in the soil in those parts. It’s true.”

Read on and find out more about the author and about this marvellously intriguing and refreshing collection of 23 stories from the pen of Richard Daniels – in the shops from November 9th from Plastic Brain Press.

Richard Daniels is a difficult writer to describe or fully understand. His stories seem more like dreams being recounted half-remembered and still full of possibility – snatches of brilliant ideas that many people would dismiss as `just ideas’ but in his hands they become fascinating and decidedly dark vignettes. In the same way that some of Bob Dylan’s best narrative songs seem to start half way through and end leaving you with 100 questions (think `All Along the Watchtower’, ` Frankie Lee & Judas Priest’ or `Lily Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’) Richard’s stories use a similar technique to draw you in and have you investing in his tales. Folk Horror Revival managed to get a few words with Richard about his craft and in particular `Too Dead for Dreaming’ and as his responses show his unconventional approach to writing extends to interview responses too…..

“I’m not sure how I ended up writing. It was something that I always did one way or another. The killer blow came when I started to take it seriously. I think Freddie Mercury put it best when he spoke about Flash Gordon and I would apply the same standard. I’m just a man, with a man’s courage. Of course I haven’t saved the Earth yet.

I like reading Guy N Smith, particularly when I’m in bed and you can hear the wind howling outside but I draw inspiration from anything, from the metallic prism of an old sweet wrapper to the homely traditions of dated Christmas cards with pictures of churchyards in the snow.”

This eclectic mix of inspirations manifests itself in the stories in Richard’s latest book with tales that cover James Dean (on wheels), the death of a rock star, ghosts in machines as well as the lost city of Atlantis. What makes this spectrum of stories so intriguing is that tiny hints and links will peep out at you as you read which suggest that they are all part of a bigger story yet to be told.

There is some real darkness in them there tales which opens up with a nihilistic rant that wouldn’t sound out of place on the lips of Frankie Boyle and ends with a nod to `The Never Ending Story’ but running throughout the book is a feeling of unsettling rural oddness which carries more than just a hint of Folk Horror. Does the author agree with this description though?

“I think aspects of it certainly do. Taken as a whole I think it creates a mood which can be unsettling in some way. A lot of life is unsettling and the mind is a natural narrative creating machine, so it’s got to do something with all the chaos and weirdness that just doesn’t fit. The 23 stories in Too Dead for Dreaming are just an aspect of that.

My earliest memory is walking to school and clutching hold of my mother’s hand very tightly when we went through the graveyard. It is forever Autumnal and thick with the smell of rotting leaves. I would close my eyes until we were through it. Things like that swirled around and mixed with TV shows I couldn’t make head nor tale of – like Sapphire & Steel or Chocky. For me Folk Horror is often a balanced mix between comfort and discomfort and the thrusting of signs and symbols onto your psyche which you know are telling you something but which can never quite be fathomed and perhaps it is for the best.”

It’s very on trend currently to be working within the Folk Horror genre but this collection of stories doesn’t feel like it is trying to do that – it feels like folk horror’s presence in the pages of `Too Dead for Dreaming’ is not just a nod to the genre but a wider reflection on the influences that Richard draws on.

“I recently went out on a night walk with my friend Tom. It was one of those late night expeditions where the darkness seemed made to be explored in the same way a dream you have is made to be explored. We had our torches – an essential folk horror piece of kit. Down a deserted country track we came upon a hooded figure on a bench with a beast keeping guard. Our hearts started racing and had we been out walking alone without each other for company I’m sure we would have turned back. The figure paid us no mind – nor did his beast. We ended up on the winding roads of an industrial park. Sure it could just have been a dog walker but I think it more likely to have been something more eerie and spectral.

I think the best way to work up ideas is to take a long walk. I’m lucky where I live – I can be out on a track with nothing but fields within a few minutes. That’s often when I turn ideas over and poke at them. Usually by the time I return I have found one or two juicy worms I can bring home and keep in a jar. The only real ritual I have is to have a cup of coffee on the go and in the winter a blanket or two wrapped about me at my desk….”

Some of this publication’s best `worms’ are the stories that deal with the possibly diabolical careers of a movie director and a rock star. By the time you have read them you will want to track down the film `Hexagasm’ and Chip Chatterton’s “hypnotic solo’ album `Lost behind the Rainbow’ so it is with a real sense of annoyance that you have to remind yourself that Richard has made all this up….I even e-mailed Plastic Brain Press for details on how to access the film `Hexagasm’ – I won’t spoil the fun by telling you what their response was. These two stories aside the subject matter covered in `Too Dead for Dreaming’ is so wide reaching that most readers will find a story that has that familiar feel for them whilst still having a fresh spin on it as part of the whole. I have read and re-read and still it feels like there are clues that I have missed which will help explain why Low Scaraby is a source of such marvellous tales – maybe Richard’s future plans will help answer these questions….so Mr D. what is next?

“Next it’s back to the compost heap. I have a few ideas for a longer examination of Low Scaraby’s topography. I’m also going to be helping to edit a collection of poems by Melody Clark who designed the cover for Too Dead for Dreaming. From what I’ve seen so far the poems are dark, devilish and fun.”

I thoroughly recommend `Too Dead for Dreaming’ and thank Richard for not only providing a preview of his work but also for answering my questions. Before we sign off though I had one last question….

  • Do you have any particular book recommendations (not necessarily Folk Horror)?

    “If you’re a Folk Horror fan and haven’t already read A Year in the Country by Stephen Prince I think you would really enjoy it.
    I’ve recently read Graveyard Love by Scott Adlerberg which was great and set around obsession in a wintry graveyard.
    Everyone should definitely read GBH by Ted Lewis. He wrote Get Carter and seems to be much underrated and mostly forgotten in this country. GBH was his last novel. It’s set in Lincolnshire and is utterly brilliant.”

    `Too Dead For Dreaming’ by Richard Daniels is out on 9th November and is published by Plastic Brain Press.

Recording our own ghosts; a review of ‘A Year In The Country – Wandering Through Spectral Fields, Journeys in Otherly Pastoralism, the Further Reaches of Folk and the Parallel Worlds of Hauntology’

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For nearly five years the A Year In The Country project has been diligently producing field reports from the more haunted and folk horror inclined borderlands and wyrder areas of popular culture. Transmitting via their regularly updated webpage and issuing audio relics in the medium of themed compilation CD/ downloads featuring such artists as The Rowan Amber Mill, Sproatly Smith and United Bible Studies, A Year In The Country (AYITC) has amassed a valuable archive of all that is uncanny, unusual or unsettling in modern culture, whether it is film, TV, literature or music. Be it Bagpuss or Beyond The Black Rainbow, Shirley Collins or Sapphire And Steel, AYITC has documented these idiosyncratic yet highly significant moments in modern media.

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These writings (or transmissions) are reproduced, revised and expanded upon here, in the first AYITC publication ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ (for the musical side of the project please do visit AYITC’s splendid Bandcamp page). Divided into 52 distinct chapters (one for each week of the year), the book is described as;

an exploration of the undercurrents and flipside of bucolic dreams and where they meet and intertwine with the parallel worlds of hauntology; it connects layered and, at times, semi-hidden cultural pathways and signposts, journeying from acid folk to edgelands via electronic music innovators, folkloric film and photography, dreams of lost futures and misremembered televisual tales and transmissions’.

Indeed, AYITC embrace a wide range of avenues to bring together not only a sense of how far reaching and varied the origins, mainstays and current players of genres such as folk horror or hauntology can be, but crucially also how they intertwine and cross pollinate. There are chapters therefore on 70’s acid folk and its impact and influence on today’s folk artists, on ‘Folk Horror Roots’ (including an entire chapter on ‘cultural behemoth’ The Wicker Man) but also on ‘Folk Horror Descendants’ such as Kill List, on apocalyptic popular culture through the decades (taking in the horrific The War Game as well as Frankie Goes To Hollywood) and on dystopian literature and cinema such as No Blade Of Grass, The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day Of The Triffids. Television series that have become a part of the folk horror conversation also feature prominently, such as The Owl Service, The Changes, Penda’s Fen and the influential Robin Redbreast (arguably a forerunner for The Wicker Man). Each chapter expertly charts its chosen subject’s impact upon the public consciousness as well as indicating that these artefacts are now part of a greater cultural cobweb that may well have threads and components that are radically different in genre or style but that equally have a strong commonality in their sense of unease and their haunted content; of similar ghosts in the machine (or spooks in the television and bookshelves). Further investigations delve into folklore, TV public information films and the landscape itself as a medium through which a certain mood, an uncanny, can be evoked.

Speaking to author Stephen Prince, we discussed this sense of cross pollination, over genres overlapping and finding common themes and ground;

SP: I think, to a certain degree, the way in which it isn’t easily definable how the different and loosely gathered areas of culture that are discussed in ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ appear to connect, influence one another, have become part of a lineage etc is an aspect of what is appealing about them and that gathering; it is part of what creates a certain mystique around it. Possibly in an age where every area of culture, no matter how niche, can be investigated and explained by for example a brief online search, it is the sense of a hidden history and stories, of an at least partly unexplained aspect to such work that is one of the things which may draw people to it. Along which lines, some of the older culture, although at times inherently containing a left-of-centredness, was initially produced and intended as quite mainstream entertainment. However, over time it has gained an otherlyness and also become points of interconnected reference and inspiration for future hauntological/ otherly pastoral work or again a loose “tradition” or set of themes:

 

“…they have come to be touchstones or lodestones that seem to invoke a hidden, layered history of the land but which also encompass and intertwine with a wider, hauntological, parallel, alternative version of Britain…” (Wandering Through Spectral Fields, P. 38)

 

In Chapter 4 of the Wandering Through Spectral Fields book (Cuckoos in the Same Nest: Hauntological and Otherly Folk Confluences and Intertwinings) I discuss some possible shared ground for such work, including a yearning for lost utopias; whether Arcadian dreams within more folk/pastoral orientated work or the lost progressive futures of hauntology. Connected to which you may know of this article but in Robert Macfarlane’s “The Eeriness of the English Countryside”, that he wrote for The Guardian in 2015, he suggests a possible more overtly politically orientated or at least rooted explanation for this curious confluence of culture:

 

“What is under way, across a broad spectrum of culture, is an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism. The supernatural and paranormal have always been means of figuring powers that cannot otherwise find visible expression. Contemporary anxieties and dissents are here being reassembled and re-presented as spectres, shadows or monsters: our noun monster, indeed, shares an etymology with our verb to demonstrate, meaning to show or reveal (with a largely lost sense of omen or portent).” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/10/eeriness-english-countryside-robert-macfarlane

 

There’s not really an overarching and definitive name for this “broad spectrum” of work but in that article he describes such “eerie counter-culture” as being an occulture; which seems appropriate and connects to the earlier mentioned sense of the hidden within such possibly disparate seeming work as some of the roots of the word occult are from the older French word occulte meaning “secret, not divulged” and the Latin occultus which means “hidden, concealed, secret”. I’m wary of seeming overly serious (!) about such things; to a certain degree you could see such cultural exploring as in part a form of grown-up make-believe and world creation, a form of escapist fun. At the same time and connected to the above comments by Robert Macfarlane, that escapist aspect may also at times have roots in more serious areas in that such intertwined work and the worlds it creates could be seen to also create a bulwark from what some may see as the more potentially overwhelming, rapacious or secularly monotheistic aspects of modern life, culture and dominant belief systems.

 

Philosopher Jacque Derrida, who again as you may know introduced the idea of hauntology, suggested that in a certain stage of society (what has been described, possibly erroneously/precipitously, as “the end of history”) the present will start to orient itself towards ideas and aesthetics that can be thought of as rustic, bizarre or “old-timey” or towards the “ghost” of the past. Much of the culture that I discuss in ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ whether older or more contemporary, folkloric and/or hauntological, could be seen as having an “old-timey” or nostalgic aspect. At the same time often rather than purely providing the potentially more comforting, familiar and recreation of the past aspects of nostalgia, it also has reimagined, unsettled or eerie aspects:

 

“A re-imagining and misremembering (that creates) forms of music and culture that seem familiar, comforting and also often unsettling and not a little eerie, creating a sense of work that is haunted by spectres of its and our cultural past…” (P. 27-28; from a section in ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ that brings together some of the recurring themes of hauntology and which could also be applied to work which explores the flipside/undercurrents of folkloric culture).

 

The flipside of folk/pastoral culture and hauntology seem to interconnect to create those familiar but also reimagined, unsettling, eerie and spectral aspects; creating a cultural harvest that on paper and technically you would not expect to, as you also say, cross pollinate but which has proved curiously and intriguingly fertile and hardy.

 

FHR: Can you say more about your motivation for producing ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ and the possibility that this may just be a first volume of many?

 

SP: In terms of why I produced ‘Wandering Through Spectral Field’s as a book separate from the AYITC website; at heart and in part it’s not all that much more complicated than it was a book that I wanted to read, that I found myself looking for over the years. Previous to and since its publication/I finished writing it there have been a number of books released which have explored some similar areas but they have generally more tended to focus on one particular area of related culture; semi-consciously I wanted to bring all these different aspects together as, well, they seem to fit, interconnect and influence one another. Online and print orientated publishing both have their pros and cons, their strengths and weaknesses and I’m not didactically more inclined towards one or the other but the more possibly curated, edited etc aspect of a book can bring a particular theme or set of themes into focus – or again as you say, on reading a collection of writing in book form it is hopefully possible to “see how they become part of a larger cultural tradition”. In terms of ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ possibly becoming part of a series of books; we shall see (!).

 

The AYITC webpage continues to be updated with new thoughts and recollections, new features and films, books, television and music that seem to exist either in a more liminal space outside of the mainstream or that instead occupies the mainstream in a more liminal and unusual manner. Seek it out if you are not already a regular visitor. And for those who favour a little Quatermass with their Wicker Man, a touch of Belbury Poly with their Incredible String Band or a taste of Children of the Stones with an offering of Chocky, this volume is highly recommended.

 

With thanks to Stephen Prince for his time and answers. ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ is available from ayearinthecountry.co.uk as well as Amazon.

 

Witch Cults T-Shirt Now Available to Preorder.

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The news that our rather wonderful new Folk Horror Revival – Witch Cults shirt is now available to order has been received with great delight here at FHR towers. The admins are frothing at the mouth over the beautiful new design created especially for the event by Andy Paciorek and Cobweb Mehers, in conjunction with Jonas at Tyrant Designs who has done a remarkable job with the manufacturing of these individual pieces.

If you are planning to join us on July 14th and would like to preorder your shirt, either contact Kt Mehers via PM on Facebook, or email us at folkhorrorrevival@gmail.com, please include a contact email address, a delivery address and your chosen size.

The shirts are available in size S, M, L, XL and XXL and are priced at £15. These can be collected at the event. Those who can’t make it can still order a shirt, postage and packaging is priced at £6, and please state in the message that you require the shirt to be posted out to you.

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Another announcement is due in the next few days so keep your eyes open, however if you want to get in early tickets are currently available from the eventbrite link below, priced at £27.54 for the full day event and £16.76 for just the evening.

Hope to see some of you there.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/folk-horror-revival-presents-witch-cults-tickets-